This is the historical marker of the site of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition world fair held in Omaha in 1898. This fair drew people in from all around the world, including president McKinley. The fair ran from June to October of 1898 and drew in hundreds of thousands of people and over a million dollars in revenue. It also showcased an enormous amount of lights and electricity as a main attraction.
The Omaha World’s
Fair, or the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898, was a
large fair held in present day North Omaha. During this time, World Fairs
were a common phenomenon. These fairs attracted people from all around the
world and showed off the most recent breakthroughs in technology as well as
different talents, shows and regional activities and customs. The first World’s
Fair was held in London in 1851. Within the five years prior to 1898, there had
been world fairs in Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville. The Trans-Mississippi and
International Exposition opened on June 1, 1898 and ended on October 31, 1898 .
Because World’s Fairs
were so popular at the time, many cities were interested in hosting their own.
Just five years before Omaha’s fair there was one held in Chicago celebrating
Christopher Columbus coming to America, and the drive to reach the west coast.
By the end of this fair, many people thought that the event held in Chicago was
more focused on eastern success than westward expansions. To give the world a
better idea of what the west was like, William Jennings Bryan proposed having a
World’s Fair in Omaha to congress and they all agreed unanimously to go forward
with this plan .
During the boom of the
World’s Fairs, over 20 countries hosted over 100 fairs, 40 of these being
international exhibitions. The first World’s Fair, that was held in London in
1851, showcased the Crystal Palace. This fair was originally created because
Prince Albert wanted to improve the sale of British goods abroad. This fair was
so successful that it led other cities and countries to want to compete with
it. One of the larger legacies left behind was that it generated such a profit
that a fund was created to provide fellowships to British students that is
still being used today. The vast majority of these fairs were held between 1880
and World War I, in countries such as Australia, Tasmania, and Guatemala. While
none of these fairs ever did live up to the standard set by the very first one
held in London, they did start a world-wide trend. Though Omaha’s fair was not the
largest or most spectacular, it was a rather successful fair and brought quite
a bit of attention to Omaha .
In preparation of a
huge exposition in Omaha, the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition
Association was created. Gurdon Wattles was designated the president of this
organization and oversaw making the larger decisions for the association.
Thomas R. Kimball and C. Howard Walker were the head architects in charge of
designing the buildings for the fair. These buildings were made from wood and
plaster and painted bright white, all to keep costs down .
The Omaha World’s Fair
of 1898 really showcased the interesting customs that were beginning to form in
Omaha at the time. There were entire celebrations revolving around western
settlement and the promotion of western resources to advocate homesteading and
moving west. Just like the others, Omaha showed off the newest technologies
from around the world, including using massive amounts of electricity and
A large portion of the
fair was dedicated to promoting Nebraska, Omaha, and the advantages of larger
scale farming for the economy. In addition to the technologies and promotions,
there was a section of the fairgrounds dedicated to showing the world the
Federal Indian Policy. This section of the fair was supposed to teach fair
attendees about the lives, dress and culture of regional Native Americans.
While this section started with rather good intentions, it ended up
degenerating into more of a wild west show.
On President’s Day October
12, 1898, President McKinley visited the Trans-Mississippi
and International Exposition.
His appearance drew nearly 100,000 people that day. There were also days
celebrating Chicago Day, Texas Watermelon Day, German Day, and many other
things. By far the biggest attraction of the fair was the lights. There were
very large white buildings and a manmade lake on the fairgrounds which were
almost completely illuminated at night. This lighting and illumination were
easily the most popular and stunning part of the fair. The main area of the
fair, also called the Grand Court, was lit by over 20,000 eight and sixteen
candle-power lamps . The lights were described as being “like a glimpse into a
fairyland .” Other attractions of the fair included shows by Buffalo Bill, the
Indian Congress, scientific discoveries, as well as games and other fun
By the end of the fair in
October, there had been over two-and-a-half million people in attendance and
nearly two million dollars in revenue. This revenue allowed investors to be
paid back 90% of what they originally invested in the fair . Overall, this was
one of the more successful World’s Fairs. Though it was a huge success, it was
still not built to last. Within 3 days of the close of the exposition the first
building was demolished; by April of 1900, there was nothing physically left of
the grandeur that once was the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition .